• repartee •
re-pahr-tay, re-pêr-tee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The back-and-forth of conversation. 2. A quick reply or response, a retort.
Notes: All dictionaries define this word as "witty", but if you mean witty repartee you have to use the word witty to distinguish it from dull repartee. Google came up with 359 instances of the latter phrase as compared to 165,000 of the former. This noun may be used as a verb, as 'to repartee with the best of them'.
In Play: Far more often repartees are witty, but not all repartees are: "Gladys's command that her son clean up his room resulted in some rather sharp repartee." It can even be dull: "Visconti says Bolan 'could have been a stand-up comic', but he must be referring to the hilariously wide lapels on his suits rather than the dull repartee here." (The Guardian, 9-9-2001.
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from French in the 17th century. It almost copied French repartie "prompt reply or conversation characterized by such replies". The noun was copied from the past participle of repartir "to reply promptly". Repartir comprises re- "back, again" + partir "to depart". Partir was inherited from Latin, partire "to divide, separate", from par(t)s "part, share". Latin created its word from PIE perê- "to allot, share", which seems to have only made it to Latin and its Romance descendants. We see evidence of this in the English borrowings, part, parcel, participate "take part in", party, parity and portion. (Now a gracious bow to a wordmaster extraordinaire [since 2005], Grand Panjandrum William Hupy, for finding today's fascinating if often misdefined Good Word.)
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